More excitement…. at rather short notice, I’m accompanying a well known local choir for their rehearsals. Hugh the Drover by Vaughn Williams and some exquisite Elgar songs.
Hugh goes at a terrific pace. He it’s not a spy after all, he knocks out the competition for Mary (who was unhappily betrothed to daddy’s boring choice) and they all go off happily into the Cotswolds with the cattle…
I have to be in my toes for sea change modulations and rapid tempo changes and I shall have to watch the conductor AND turn pages!
Hmm. In the saddle tonight then
I have been knitting…. yes, you guessed, it’s an Icelandic woolly. With a white haystack head to go with it!
It is fantastically warm in there, so it had the snip and converted to a cardigan…. Moments of disbelief, but it it’s all nicely sealed in behind a cunning button band facing. Phew!
Last night was a very special first.
Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto in a poly tunnel on a digital piano, including the piano transcription of the orchestra. (And a few cuts)
After 39 years and 6 months the Emperor finally punched his way from my library onto the music desk.
2 months ago Kirsten reminded me that I had agreed to play something for her 50th birthday celebration. I had forgotten.
What would she like?
“The Emperor is my favourite”
I missed the joke. (Last night she said she had been joking…. honestly! )
Although it had been lurking in the dusty provinces of ” too insanely difficult” along with so many of my manuscripts, perhaps it was time at last to have another try.
I got hooked.
For the last few weeks, I have been at it, inserting the orchestral parts and scrubbing out the notes I really can’t play. Lots and lots of practice, and getting to know Beethoven again, at his most intimate and at the height of his elemental, explosive life force. Bassoons, horns in fifths, flutes and plucked double basses. The roar of an orchestral tutti that suddenly give way to the piano solos which float upon the arc of the breath or pound in brilliant scale passages.
Over these weeks he has picked me up, engulfed me stampeded across and then tenderly stroked the most sensitive, fragile threads of my heart strings. Cascades of wild spanning emotion. Mass alternating with gossamer and at the last, just when you think he will end in gentle, settled poise, a thunder roll and fanfare to echo the very beginning.
Last night he burst out and showered Kirsten and her guests with wave upon wave of sheer joy.
A crush of silent attentive friends on sofas, surrounded by flowers and tomato plants. A bumble bee that hummed on a perfect E flat as he buried himself in the foxglove beside my right ear……and just in the near whisper of a solo moment, birdsong threaded through the musical tapestry, bringing the outside in and turning us inside out.
In the morning, straight from my tent in a paradise of moorland greenery and back to play it all over again for breakfast. Mellow, more relaxed, more …..
Beethoven, anywhere, anytime.
My cat consistently preferred Brahms. There must have been something in the rich flavour and texture that drew her devotion. At the first phrase she would arrive on the right hand side of the music desk and settle until a tricky passage when she would walk slowly across to the left, using my nose as a passing anchor for her tail. This obliterated the music and made me sneeze, but her rumbling purr and dribbling was a sure sign of ecstatic appreciation. I hadn’t the heart to stop such a ritual.
I think our slight hearing loss progressed in parallel.
In her later years, she missed the discreet clang of the tin opener just as I missed the ultrasonic crackle of burning rice. I incinerated so many meals from the piano stool.
I have been thinking about silence and space. Action and stillness. So much music has ceaseless movement.
Schubert’s G major sonata is one of the first works to have arrested me with its use of sculptural arches of space. I heard it for the first time on the radio in 1992. It started my 20 year journey into late sonatas.
For the 48 minutes of Richter’s performance time stood still. I had to lie down and abandon everything so as to inhabit the exquisite present.
In the first movement architectural pillars of harmony give rise to soaring vaults between them. Their sonorous weight and long moments of release into silence allow time for the music to reverberate into the atmosphere and sink deep into your being. In each timeless pause after the sound has floated away, there is still time for the after-ripples to surface before the next wave carries you forwards. An out breath followed by an in breath. Each phrase, each movement has a life of its own, yet spanning the 25 page whole is one single heavenly arc, which as it closes descends home in perfect balance and to echo the opening statement. A rainbow from Alpha to Omega.
Richter’s arc was hewn with chisels of light. The smallest nuggets of phrase polished with silken intellect.
More recently I have been studying a form of rhythmical massage called Einreibung.
It is so like the Schubert.
The hands enfold a limb with soft warmth and a sense of utter well-being. Piano, crescendo, diminuendo. Rest, release, maintain contact. And then, in another key or altered position, finely graduated touch and release. Again and again, with the kind of fluid pulse that is deeply reassuring yet onward moving. Each shift flows seamlessly into the next. The beginning imparts a health-giving statement and the end, an echo of the beginning, a loving conclusion. It touches far more than the superficial soft tissues. In its unwavering attention, it brings heart-warmth and soul-healing.
The hands become unboundaried vessels. The instrument disappears and all that is left is the music.
I am sure that this kind of deep soul massage of the Schubert was what enabled my beloved friend to finally weep for his unborn child.
He had not had classical music as a natural part of his childhood in the way that I had, so was baffled by what he called my endless “plink-plonking” away at the keys…. but after nobly sitting through a mammoth concert of the G major, A major sonatas and the ultimate B flat major, he dissolved in a way he had never experienced.
After this he would ask me to play the slow movement of the B flat again and again. I think he needed to be able to rock into his sadness, safely contained and cradled by Schubert’s subdued grief.
Shortly before he died he said “ you know Jenny, ( he always called me by name) if you weren’t playing the piano all the time, and I am not saying you should stop…. there might be many other things you would love to do”
He was so right. His death was a wake up call to life. What a gift.
Sitting outside in the elements. Painting, looking, sketching, taking time.
I cannot imagine a better way to experience at least a smattering of Icelandic wonderment.
Microscopic and macroscopic lenses reveal the vibrant living energy of this juvenile land mass. It creaks and splits to render vast eruptions of white hot rocks and flaming rivers of lava which then petrify as trolls must when they have outstayed the night. The remains are miles and miles of strange crisp scrapings covered in mossy pillows or windswept peaks of tufted grasses. A wolf here, a gnarled face, a colony of misshapen creatures, dragons, reptiles…… it is no wonder that there are such strong tales of the invisible ones. It would seem that fine black scree predominates, but on close inspection the minerals are so rich that green, red, amber as moss, lichen or fine grasses speckle the loose shale slopes. On the flat bogs between the shore and the foothills the deep grasses are blown like the straw blond manes of the horses that graze there. Tufts and peaks, waves and whorls.
Everywhere, from small rocks of wafer-light pumice to massive boulders. From tiny black grit to 100kg lifting stones. Horse tails and hay. Snow melt and watery reflections, there are repeating patterns and connections that only become evident in the attempt to reproduce them with stick/ink/brush/paints….
Awe at the first settlers who survived such extremes. Respect for the current islanders who live in such isolated areas and yet who communicate and cooperate so that shopping needs, for example, are everybody’s concern. (The nearest supermarket to our farm is some 40km away, so whoever is going rings around to see who needs what)
A message about a mobile phone, lost on the road ricocheted along the grapevine and it was returned within 24 hours.
Dry humour in the airport. “Please hold up your trousers for a little longer while you remove your belt”… Or, “if you think the weather is bad, just take off your coat”
I like Iceland and Icelanders.
Here are a few more paintings and an irresistible photo of Lo-ey
Can you spot the one that is upside down?
Johanna Berger was our excellent tutor, offering both warm support and lively challenge.
Annemarie was my lovely adventurous companion.
What a homecoming! Spring with an early flavour of summer heat to contrast with the cold and wet of the north.
One more thing. You should taste the whacky chocolate.
At last I am allowing myself to stop three perfectionism. Johanna has been encouraging us to loosen up by “turning the page”…. A bit like the elusive cup of tea. You have to get through several before the perfect ones lights up your soul.
A little freestyle evolution is emerging….
Footage of molten, flaming lava steadily engulfing a whole village from the safety of a cinema seat was a great introduction to the extremes of Iceland. The consistent remark from those whose homes were devastated was “it was so beautiful”…. I can now just about comprehend the significance of the postcards which show a black wall of lava, shooting flames and sparks into the night sky.
We left the city yesterday and drove 2 and a half hours north west to a remote spot on the snaefells peninsula where we have settled into wooden cabins under a mountain of black and white.
Today we have been out in the elements to paint and scrabble with ink and stick /stone/grass.
I have joined a group of 6 to paint with the help and guidance of Johanna.
Already, on our first day we have jointly produced a large volume of sketches and gained pink noses and cold hands. Thankfully, although it has drizzled, the wind is only mild and the temperature at least 5 degrees.
In particular I have loved getting up close to several Icelandic horses. They are very friendly, relaxed and curious.
A couple of early efforts.
Within the deep black of the volcanic rock there is a wealth of colour ranging from red to green and amber. In the ever-changing light this glows from the mountainside. It is almost as though the heat must radiate up from the depths of the earth to meet with the ice and snow.
Such a stunning place to be.